Expert Calls on Profession to Protect Immune-suppressed Staff and Clients from Bartonellosis at OV Conference

Animal Health

The risk to immune-suppressed clients and veterinary team members from human Bartonellosis and the importance of reducing the risk of transmission of what he called ‘this neglected parasitic disease’ was highlighted by veterinary surgeon and parasitologist Dr Ian Wright, head of the European Scientific Counsel Companion Animal Parasites UK and Ireland (ESCCAP), during a lecture at this year’s Official Veterinarian (OV) Conference. The conference, the UK’s only event dedicated to the needs of OVs, took place online between 28 September and 2 October.

Dr Wright explained that Bartonellosis is transmitted by the pathogens B.henselae, B. koehlerae and B.clarridgeiae, which have a high seroprevalence in UK cats - 40.6% (Barnes et al, 2000) and 15.3% in Scotland (Bennet et al, 2011). In cats, the disease can cause pyrexia and is linked to renal disease, gingivitis and myocarditis.

“Expert Calls on Profession to Protect Immune-suppressed Staff and Clients from Bartonellosis at OV Conference.“

Bartonellosis is transmitted to humans through flea faeces in the coats or claws of cats, which are passed on during petting or through scratches or bites - hence it is also known as ‘cat scratch disease’. Given the regularity with which they check cats for fleas, Dr Wright suggested that veterinary professionals are at particular risk with aerosol transmission also suspected and flea crushing a common practice. With a 2019 study suggesting 11.3% of cat and dog fleas test positive for Bartonellosis, Dr Wright estimated that more than 400,000 dogs and cats in the UK could be carrying fleas infected with the disease.

In the majority of humans, Bartonellosis will not cause significant illness but Dr Wright said that, in a small number of cases, including individuals whose immune system is suppressed, such as elderly clients on steroid medication, the disease can progress causing symptoms, including chronic fatigue, blurred vision and ataxia. Bacillary angiomatosis is a potentially fatal outcome in vulnerable groups.

Dr Wright called on delegates to ensure that those in at-risk groups were kept safe and, in particular, to help them avoid the risk of flea infestations in their homes. He said this could be achieved through a strong focus on flea control including:

• The use of an adulticide treatment to kill fleas before they lay eggs. He reminded vets to consider the lifestyle of the animal to ensure they select the correct treatment with owner preference also important to support compliance

• Year-round protection. He recognised concerns about the effect of ‘blanket treatments’ on the environment and said hard data was needed to confirm which products contributed least to environmental contamination. He suggested that, if veterinary surgeons did not dispense appropriate treatments, some owners would buy products from pet shops which, if not applied correctly, could be far more environmentally damaging and less safe for animals.

He also urged hygiene measures in practice, including:

• Wearing gloves to minimise skin contact with flea dirt and taking steps to restrain cats likely to bite or scratch

• Removing flea dirt safely and using tweezers to handle fleas and disposing of them in alcohol. Making hand cream available could help team members to keep skin abrasions to a minimum

• Testing cats before rehoming them to an immune-suppressed owner and, if necessary, eliminating fleas and treating the cat with a four-week antibiotic course to clear the infection.

Dr Wright said: “All veterinary surgeons, and especially OVs, have a responsibility to keep their teams and clients safe while supporting the loving relationship they have with their feline friends.

“With Bartonellosis increasingly recognised as a public health issue in the US, it is likely that it is set to become a similar problem here though we currently lack the data to confirm this. What is clear, however, is the potential threat it poses to immune-suppressed individuals and it is important that we all work together to recognise the threat and to protect them.”

The OV Conference is a unique forum in which OVs can discuss current topics of interest and recent developments in their work. It is organised by Improve International in association with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). This year’s conference ran successfully online from 28 September to 2 October. Key themes included notifiable diseases, biosecurity and disease control, and export certification. Recordings of the lectures will shortly be available at

Improve International is one of the world’s leading veterinary training companies with growing expertise in helping delegates to optimise distance learning programmes. It also supports OVs through hosting the only conference dedicated to their needs. The 2020 Official Vet Conference took place online from 28 September-2 October but the event will revert to a face-to-face format for 2021, taking place at Alexandra House, Swindon, on September 28 and 29.

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